Lena Dunham makes art that is fiercely, and at times, uncomfortably, intimate. Her latest work, the music video for “Tucked In Tight” by Attawalpa, who is Dunham’s partner Luis Felber, is a collection of intimate couple moments captured on iPhone that are as sweet as they are cringe, like the Instagram grid of that one couple you know who’s always together. The song, off Attawalpa’s latest EP Patterns, starts as a cooing, almost spoken lullaby and gradually builds into an epic, searing, nearly seven-minute long ballad exploring the creation and destruction of relationships.
In the video, which was shot on an iPhone both horizontally and vertically, mimics a chronic oversharer’s Instagram story. We see Felber in the bath, in bed, at the beach, handing his lover an orange, lighting palo santo, snuggling with a dog, and kissing the hands of a lover who is always obscured. Eventually, many different hands and bodies come into the frame and we come to understand that the song could be about any number of relationships, and perhaps is about the destruction and eventual loneliness of them all.
Watch the video for “Tucked In Tight” below, and read on as Dunham and Felber discuss the horror of #couplegoals, new-found privacy, and more.
Tell me a little bit about why you wanted to direct this music video and how you conceptualized it?
Dunham: I was just telling Luis, I was writing the ever-so-important Instagram caption, which forced me to think about why I wanted to do it. When I heard the song, when Luis played it for me the first time, the idea that it's a love song, but when you dig deeper it’s really a song about being in a love relationship to your phone, to your device, which feels more relevant than ever in this particular moment when people are so isolated. It was a really interesting concept to play with because it gave us so much to think about in terms of, “Okay so how do I use the phone as a character? How do I have the phone be a third character? How do I view the concept of how your device becomes an interplay in your relationship?”
We’re in a relationship, the idea of how much do you reveal, how much do you not reveal, when does that reveal become kind of sinister? And also, we’re thinking so much these days about what it means to be in lockdown and create Covid content and that was kind of the phone necessitated something that was intimate in the way that this time also necessitates making something that is intimate and I loved to work with him because of the beautiful connection. Luis, was that okay? It’s our first interview together so I got nervous and I wanted to do a good job.
Felber: It was really fun to work with Lena in that capacity. To play the song, it’s quite a long song, but it's the closing of my second EP, so I wanted to sort of go out with a bang. The song is about how the phone was the first thing I looked at in the morning and the last thing I looked at before I went to bed. It was very easy to sit down and figure out the narrative with Lena and it was so fun. I’d do it again. I think we will.
The video reminded me of some of the aspects of your work, Lena, that are so distinct — like this really raw intimacy. Why was that intimacy important to convey?
Dunham: I’m glad you felt that. When I was pitching it to Luis, I was like, okay this isn’t going to be a great pitch because it’s sort of a non-idea, you sort of just have to feel it. This idea of when we’re looking at Instagram and seeing couples document themselves in sort of this aggressive #couplegoals #hemademecoffee #hekissedmyfaceinbed energy, but you also know that there’s always something more complex happening beneath the surface, so how can we take using the phone and knowing that people are always putting on their most appealing or specific or curated version into the phone, how can we still dig into what was a little sinister about needing to curate your life and project the sexiness and magic of your relationship or your own desirability out towards your followers in a certain way.
That was the idea that I was playing with, but I also never want it to be so much about a concept, I also just love to make stuff that feels intimate and real between people and that’s always the root of my writing and the root what I want to do and what I’m attracted to in the work of filmmakers, where I feel the texture and specificity of people. I’m an actor and I’m directing actors and in Covid times, directing Lu and directing my hands and directing a few friends’ hands, but still trying to get that same sense of finding those specific moments that are so appealing to me.
Felber: It’s very fun to be directed by Lena.
Dunham: In the morning I was like, “Here’s what we have to do today. Are you ready? Do you need coffee?” And he looked over at me in his pajamas and was like, “No, I’m ready for you to film me,” and I was like, “Do you want to get up and brush your teeth or anything?” And he’s like “No, I can do a take right now,” and I was like, “You don’t need to prepare in any way? You’re just ready to go?” And he’s like doing three takes in bed. And it's like, just so you know this isn’t the job of acting. Usually you have to get up, leave your bed, at least get in a car and go somewhere else, you’re getting it really easy today.
Did you have any of this just filmed already from your lives together? It felt so natural.
Dunham: No, I’m glad it did and that was kind of the trick of it, I was hoping that it would. We don’t really take cutesy couple footage. We take sweet pictures of ourselves and cute stuff of our dog, but we don’t sit around filming ourselves making out in bed because we’re usually living our lives.
Felber: I find the whole concept of #couplegoals quite sick, it’s like killing romance I think. We hadn't filmed any of that.
Dunham: It was all shot-listed and our friend Emma, who creative directed the video, did a whole list for me of: Here’s what girls on the internet do. They film their boyfriends grabbing them coffee. They film their boyfriends grabbing their butts. They film their boyfriends putting their hoodies over their boyfriends heads, and walking the dog. She was doing this research on Instagram and being like, “This is what the kids are doing to their boyfriends,” and I was like, “Okay Lu, I guess this is what’s going to happen to you in the shotlist.”
You might’ve had an Instagram up for a second, because I think I read that you also wanted to convey the cringe of these long term intimate relationships, as well as those sweeter moments. Can you talk about that?
Dunham: Totally. I did have an Instagram up for a minute, but then there was some strange thing where Instagram took it down. It was some glitch with Instagram thinking I didn’t own the music. It will be fixed. That being said when my social media person told me they took it down and I was like, “For nudity?” And then I realized it's not GIRLS. There’s no nudity, I can breathe!
Felber: I’ve got my nipples out.
Dunham: You do have your nipples out, but we know that men don’t have to worry about the nipple, it’s a woman’s problem. I wanted it to live on the line between something that felt beautiful and something romantic and something that felt a little cringe and a little too intimate and you were a little too close to it. Then, when it turns and all the other hands start to enter the frame and he’s sort of overrun with women. You don’t understand what perspective its coming form, but you understand it could be any number of relationships and in some way, every one of these relationships that we commodified with the internet becomes the same.
That’s what I thought a lot about as I’ve become more private. That's something I’ve thought about as I’ve become more careful about what I put in the world. It's funny because people don’t always give that much credit, especially to the female artist. They’ll look and be like, “Oh Lena Dunham’s posting her home movies,” but without thinking it's a deeply, curated, shot-listed piece of art and it’s very much a metacommentary on those ideas. Even though I should not be accused of posting my home videos, I should be slapped for using the term metacommentary.
Felber: I think it’s important for people to make what they want out of it. People will think that’s a reflection of themselves, and that’s what art should do: make insiders and outsiders question. Every piece of art shouldn’t just be a cutesy thing, but it gets quite dark towards the end when we were shooting in the bath.
Dunham: He has like four girls sitting on him in the bath.
Felber: And the water was so hot.
Dunham: I know and someone was like, “It’s quite sexy for Luis to have all those girls on him in the bath,” and I was thinking how he was so hot and so pained that he begged not to have to do it a second time, so I think, no. I really love the song so much and for me what made it such a pleasure was that I write while listening to music and I often will write screenplays with music in mind to guide specific scenes. Music will often summon scenes for me, which I think is true for so many writers. This song brought so much up for me the first time I heard it, and really what this video is is the most organic expression of what a visual can be. It’s what the song brought up for me and that was a very organic expression of what I saw when Lu played me this really epic thing that he created. My editor, Danielle Schneiderman, she and I did a little short documentary about Emily Ratajkowski’s pregnancy. She, Danielle, and I sat together and
she’s so gifted and she really helped arc the narrative and make sure it really spoke to everything, all the really subtle stuff. There’s stuff in that song that he took — he took old voicemails that were in his phone and screwed and chopped them and stretched them and reversed them. And of course, I’m so annoying, I’m like, “Who are the voicemails from what did they say?”
Felber: Mostly exes and relatives.
Dunham: Exes and relatives, the scariest people in the world.
Was this shot on an iPhone?
Dunham: Yes, and I said in my take it down post today, or I said it in response to a comment, “This was all shot on iPhone #notanad.” It was shot on iPhone and it’s the second thing during Covid that I've shot on iPhone. We also did the Emily documentary on iPhone and it is really amazing. We wanted it to look like it was shot on an iPhone because it spoke to what we were trying to do, but it’s amazing how easily we could have shot it on an iPhone and not made it look that way. Emma, who was also a pair of hands in the video, she and I took the cameras and both at the same time, simultaneously moving around each other. Sometimes it was just Lu and me. It was all shot on iPhone in and around London and in the English countryside and fields and towns and valleys and bed and bathtubs.
We see you three-quarters of the way in and we might be able to guess it’s you, but then we see you in a mirror shot and I’m curious about the decision to put yourself in and at that point?
I think in the mirror shot I was still sort of, because my iPhone was in front of my face, I was still, even though I know people will know it’s me, there’s still a goal to obscure my identity in a way. In the mirror shot I was only partially turned around. You always see me keeping myself as an abstract character in it, even when I become more obvious. I definitely made sure in every one of the shots to only ever show as much as a quarter of my face, and everyone else’s face. We don’t show any of the other girls’ faces.
When I did show myself, it was to make a gesture so people who will guess will guess. It's obviously not a hard guess and it was much less about, I don’t want to be in it because I’m a recognizable figure or because we’re a couple or any of those ideas, and much more because of the idea of the anonymousness of yet another partner who’s been into the world via your internet presence, yet another partner who disappears, yet another relationship, yet another relationship that floats away, the way the internet lets romance into your life, and then lets the air out of romance. Those questions felt easier to explore with an anonymous female character.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.